Dear Reagan,

My wife never does the dishes. We tend to split up who makes dinner pretty evenly. With both of us in school and working, our schedules are very different during the day so we hardly ever eat breakfast and lunch together. Every night when I come home there are dishes left in the sink. It’s never a big enough problem to warrant a serious conversation, but it still frustrates me. What can I do?

Best,

Disappointed Dishwasher

Dear Disappointed,

Few things in our day-to-day life can be more frustrating than housework. No matter how on top of things we are, there will still be more to do. It’s the nature of the beast. Chores and housework may not be the biggest deal in your marriage, but if it is causing you continual stress, it is big enough to look for a solution. There’s no reason to let something small get in the way of an otherwise healthy relationship.

Unfortunately, the scholarship is pretty split on how to handle situations like this—just as the rest of us are. Many suggest keeping chores strictly 50/50. Others suggest we should all just care a little less about our messiness. Lori Gottlieb, a couples therapist who has written extensively on couple dynamics, says that splitting-up housework should happen naturally.

“You can’t treat a relationship like a spreadsheet,” Gottlieb said. “It has to be more organic than that. Each couple needs to find their own rhythm, where each person is participating in a way that makes you both feel like you’re getting a good deal.”

This can seem incredibly difficult in practice. Clearly, if things were happening well organically, you wouldn’t come here for advice. Try swapping all of your duties to start so each of you can get a better sense of the work you both do.

“The biggest mistake you can make in your quest to have your partner do more chores around the house is to ask for help,” Sheri Stritof, a writer on marriage, says. Asking for help implies that the responsibility for the chores belongs to just you. In actuality, chores around the house are shared responsibilities.

Stritof offers some additional practical places to start in her article “How to Keep Housework From Hurting Your Marriage” found on the website Very Well Mind — that may be a great place to start.

Hope that helps!

Reagan

Illustration by Kevin Baggerly